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Palace backs UP suicide probe

Christopher Tejada shows pictures of his daughter Kristel. JOVEN CAGANDE

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday supported an investigation into the suicide of Kristel Tejada, a freshman student of the University of the Philippines - Manila who took her own life after failing to pay tuition.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it would be up to UP to answer specific questions surrounding the case of Tejada.

Valte said the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is discouraging the policy of forcing students to take a leave of absence for failure to pay their tuition.

Tejada, a behavioral science major, was forced to take a leave of absence because she could not pay her tuition balance of P10,000 this semester.

She asked for a loan or installment payment and offered a promissory note.

When these were all turned down, Tejada’s mother, according to some reports, even knelt before UP Manila Chancellor Manuel Agudo and begged that her daughter be allowed to continue attending her classes.

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When that still didn’t work, Tejada was forced to file a forced leave of absence (LOA) earlier this week.

Then on early Friday, the despondent girl drank silver cleaner at their home in Tondo, Manila. She was rushed to the Metropolitan Medical Center but emergency teams failed to revive her.

Valte said there were efforts from CHED to rationalize tuition and financial assistance to those studying in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

According to Valte, the case of Tejada is saddening and pitiful. She extended Malacañang’s deepest sympathies to her family.

Valte said they would not want to add to speculations as to why the 16-year-old Tejada decided to end her life.

“We will have to defer to UP since they are the ones who set that policy. What we have from CHED is that the CHED discourages that particular practice since the schools can always withhold the grades, or the class cards,” Valte said.

She said CHED was working to rationalize such policy but colleges and universities, even if state-owned, could set and impose their own rules, including the “no permit, no exam” policy.

Valte noted they were aware of the ladderized system of tuition or payment scheme at UP, which would depend on the economic bracket by which students would fall.

“But we’re not in a position to speak for UP so they should be the ones to answer questions on their policies,” she said.

Valte also refused to comment on observations that UP was no longer serving its purpose as a state educational institution since it was not serving marginalized students but the rich ones who could afford higher tuition in other schools.

She also said universities and colleges were allowed to increase their tuition and other fees up to a certain percentage that would be coordinated with CHED.

CHED chairperson Patricia Licuanan said the suicide was a complex and sensitive issue.

“I hesitate to get involved in the discussions at this point. The death of Kristel Tejada is a terrible tragedy,” Licuanan said.

Licuanan said CHED supports a full investigation on Tejada’s case and ordered all state colleges and universities, including UP, to conduct consultations with parent, students and stakeholders before increasing their fees.

Licuanan said Tejada’s suicide must be approached with great sensitivity, as “simplistic speculation does not help anyone.”

“And using Kristel’s apparent suicide to serve a political platform, no matter how valid, is unconscionable,” she said.

Lamentable

Several lawmakers, however, expressed their concern over the suicide.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said he student was denied a second chance to continue her studies because of her inability to pay her tuition.

He said Tejada became a victim of policies by state universities and colleges stemming from the gross neglect of administration of the education sector.

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, said “government and state universities should show more compassion and leeway especially to students who come from poor families and experiencing financial constraint.”

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said the suicide was another manifestation of Malacañang’s insensitivity to the plight of the poor in slashing the budgets of SUCs and government hospitals.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda said the government must make all SUCs “tuition free” to prevent another suicide such as Tejada’s.

“The suicide of 16-year-old Kristel Tejada of UP Manila is completely deplorable and unacceptable. This necessitates a review and reopening of the policy of state colleges and universities in charging tuition,” he said.

Another UNA senatorial candidate, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito assailed the policies of UP Manila that led to the suicide of Tejada.

Ejercito said the refusal of UP Manila to allow one of its poor students to continue her studies due to inability to pay tuition is deplorable.

He said the UP administration should abolish its policies of forced leave of absence and no late payment as these discriminate against poor students. -Pia Lee-Brago, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy

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